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The craziest and most interesting questions Apple asks during job interviews

Published Nov 20th, 2015 2:41PM EST
Apple Interview Questions
Image: David Sandoz

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Working at Apple is incredibly fast-paced and challenging, and if you happen to be an engineer or designer at Apple, this dynamic is undoubtedly amplified. With Apple continuously serving up products meant to be used by hundreds of millions of consumers across the globe, the pressure to deliver hardware and software that “just works” – in a compressed time-frame, no less – is immense.

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Not surprisingly, landing a job at Apple is no small feat, and the company’s interview process ensures that only the best and brightest are able to walk through the doors at 1 Infinite Loop. While many of the questions Apple asks prospective employees naturally center on standard engineering, math, physics, and Computer Science concepts — data structures, algorithms, materials, sorting etc. — Apple, much like Microsoft, also asks questions that aim to gauge an interviewee’s creativity, communication skills, and problem solving ability.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft was the first major tech corporation to start implementing outside the box questions during interviews, an approach that was eventually copied by many other tech companies. As a quick illustration, two interview questions Microsoft has been known to ask include: How would you design an ATM for children? and I am your grandmother. Describe what MATLAB is to me.

Recently, we pored over a whole lot of interview data from Glassdoor to come up with some of the more interesting, puzzling, and at times wacky questions prospective Apple employees have been asked during job interviews.

Software QA Engineer

The first example is something of a brain teaser.

There are three boxes, one contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of the box it labels. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?

The next example is a bit more interesting and requires a dash of creativity (question has been abridged for clarity).

How do you test a prototype of a vending machine… if it doesn’t give back any change? How do you analyze what has gone wrong? You don’t have any access to internals of the vending machine.

Product Manager

The three examples we found for Product Manager interviews are rather interesting.

The first reads:

How would you write the business requirements for a toaster

And the second:

Sequence the following four items in order of importance: Cost, Design, Quality, Time

And the third:

How would you solve an issue if you didn’t know exactly what the problem was?

Product Design Engineer

Product design engineers at Apple need to be well versed in a number of disciplines, including design, engineering, materials science and more. As a result, the questions asked of prospective product design engineers are a bit more pointed.

Some of the more interesting interview questions we found for this position include:

  • The interviewer set their iPhone on the table and asked me how I would design the Sound On/Silent toggle switch on the side of the phone. Why?
  • Please name 20 different ways to remove balloons from an apartment.
  • The interviewer set the rear cover of an old iPod Touch on the table and asked me to identify the materials. If you had designed this rear cover, what are 5 tests that you would conduct on the completed iPod Touch assembly to ensure that your rear cover design met all applicable requirements? Why?
  • If you are in a boat in the middle of the pond and drop an anchor, how does the water level vary with respect to shore?
  • What material property is related to the bendability of a given metal?
  • Describe the how you would test what material is made from the remote control of the Apply TV?
  • Do you do personal design work as a hobby?
  • The interviewer drew a picture of an adjustable Crescent wrench on the white board. Is there an optimal orientation or direction when using the wrench to torque a hex head bolt? Why?
  • Tosses an old Apple iPhone shell on the table. What materials do you see?
  • What are the different ways you can you tell if this part is steel or aluminium?
  • A cube (1-1-1m) of ice in a room (50C) sitting on a wooden table. the ice is 1m away from the walls around it’s 4 sides, except for 1 side is 30cm away. You’re given 2 insulating blankets (1m by 1m) that can be used to cover the ice block. The goal is to keep the ice in solid form as long as possible. Where would you put the blankets?

Software Engineer

Software engineers at Apple make a lot of money, but are tasked with ensuring that Apple products remain best in class. Naturally, most questions thrown at potential software engineers are, well, hardcore engineering problems. Still, we did manage to find a few notable outliers that are worth highlighting.

The first one reads:

If you have 2 eggs, and you want to figure out what’s the highest floor from which you can drop the egg without breaking it, how would you do it? What’s the optimal solution?

The second is a head scratcher but does have an answer:

You have a 100 coins laying flat on a table, each with a head side and a tail side. 10 of them are heads up, 90 are tails up. You can’t feel, see or in any other way find out which side is up. Split the coins into two piles such that there are the same number of heads in each pile.

This next one is as straight forward as they come:

Can you work long hours on a short deadline?

A few more goodies worth highlighting include:

  • If I put you in a sealed room with a phone that had no dial tone, how would you fix it?
  • Model an elevator.
  • Given a deck of cards, write a method to determine if it is “flush”.
  • There is a mission-critical (i.e. cannot be rebooted) server that is lagging, hard. You only have a terminal/shell prompt. How do you debug it?
  • Given an iTunes type of app that pulls down lots of images that get stale over time, what strategy would you use to flush disused images over time?”
  • The iPhone has a feature for when a user begins to enter a contacts name or email address a list of possible matches is built. How would you implement this in order for the search to perform quickly and change each time a user inputs a character?

Mechanical Engineer

Interestingly enough, one user on Glassdoor notes that he was asked this same question at both Apple and Lab126 (Amazon).

You put a glass of water on a record turntable and begin slowly increasing the speed. What happens first — does the glass slide off, tip over, or does the water splash out?

Global Supply Manager

A question in the Microsoft mold:

How many children are born every day?

And one more for good measure:

How would you breakdown the cost of this pen?

All good stuff, but by far, the two best answers about Apple interview questions we saw on Glassdoor read as follows:

“I was asked to no share them” and  “Signed an NDA to not disclose.”

Oh, Apple. You and your secrets.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.